Paul Toussaint was hopeful that Canada's new humanitarian program aimed at reuniting Haitians, among others, with Canadian family members would mean his mother and two sisters would finally be able to join him in Montreal. That is, until he learned Quebec would not be taking part.
"How [can] you work that much for society and that society rejects you," said Toussaint, a renowned chef who owns four businesses in Montreal.
Members of the Haitian community gathered inside one of his restaurants, Kamúy, on Thursday to put pressure on Premier François Legault's government to reconsider its decision. Together, they form the Concertation haïtienne pour les migrants, a coalition of organizations representing the interests of Haitian immigrants and asylum seekers.
The federal program, announced in October by Canadian Immigration Minister Marc Miller, will open the door to 11,000 people from Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela who have immediate family members living in Canada either as citizens or permanent residents.
But when it launched on Nov. 17, it made clear that only those who "reside in Canada, outside the province of Quebec," would be eligible to sponsor relatives.
The province of Quebec had opted out of the program.
Ruth Pierre-Paul, the executive director of Bureau de la communauté haïtienne, said Thursday that Quebec's decision feels like a sanction against the community.
"We're penalizing Quebecers of Haitian, Colombian and Venezuelan origin who are ready to receive — and have the means to receive — their family members, at their expense," says Pierre-Paul.
That's the case for Toussaint, who sends money on a monthly basis overseas to support his family. When Canada announced the plan for the program, it was a ray of hope for him, since he says the visa process usually takes about three years.
"It's been 16 years that I'm here in Quebec, I've invested everything here," he said.
In March, Premier François Legault said Quebec had done enough to help asylum seekers when the federal program was first announced. A spokesperson for the Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette, left, says that position remains unchanged. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)
No capacity, says Immigration spokesperson
There are almost 179,000 Canadians of Haitian origin in the country, 87 per cent of whom live in Quebec — mostly in Montreal — according to data from the 2021 census. The province is also home to almost 40 per cent of Canada's ethnically Colombian population.
Marjorie Villefranche, the general manager of the Maison d'Haïti, says that Quebec's decision to withdraw from the federal program signals that it does not want to see more members of those communities.
When Premier Legault was asked about Quebec's openness to the program in March, he said that his government had already done its part in helping asylum seekers.
The CAQ's position has been consistent since then and will remain unchanged even after Thursday's news conference, said a spokesperson for Quebec's Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette, adding that Quebec is at "full capacity."
"Quebec is receiving much too many asylum seekers when compared to the number of people living in Quebec," said Fréchette, when the province presented its updated immigration plan earlier in November.
However, Villefranche points out that the family-based program isn't aimed at asylum seekers.
"Because of the terrible situation unfolding over there [in Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela] we're allowing people from here to sponsor their families so, it's a humanitarian program," she said.
Haiti in particular has been dealing with a "shocking rise in gang violence" as detailed in a new United Nations report.
Pierre-Paul says the Haitian community in Canada is experiencing an injustice considering a program was designed for them but they can't access it because the province where an overwhelming majority of them live won't allow it.
"Those communities shouldn't be sandwiched in a dispute between the federal and provincial governments," she said.
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